Feud for thought: These Chicago rivalries are worthy of documentary treatment
ESPN’s documentary on the Avalanche-Red Wings rivalry was so good, it made me want docs for rivalries with Chicago teams. That got me thinking: What could those be?
Rivalries take sports to levels that make for outstanding theater. Such was the case with the Avalanche-Red Wings rivalry of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which ESPN examined in “Unrivaled” as part of its “E60” documentary series.
The two-hour show, which premiered Sunday and is available on ESPN+, focused on the spark that lit the rivalry — Claude Lemieux’s dirty hit of Kris Draper — and its aftereffects. It also covered the tentacles of the rivalry (octopus pun intended), from the personal to the public.
It was so good, it made me want ones for rivalries with Chicago teams, and that got me thinking: What could those documentaries be?
I came up with ideas for the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox. They span from a single game to several years, but they have one thing in common: They’ll get your blood boiling.
Bears: Mike Ditka vs. Forrest Gregg
The Bears-Packers rivalry might be the oldest in the NFL, but it has lacked the nastiness of others for a while. The last time it reached such a level was in the 1980s, when Ditka led the Bears and Gregg the Packers. They had verbal — and gestural — spats during games and through the media.
Both previously played for the team they coached, and they passed those animosities on to their players. The 1985 game in Green Bay was particularly chippy. Packers cornerback Mark Lee was ejected after he sent Walter Payton tumbling over a bench. Not long later, Packers safety Kevin Stills blasted Matt Suhey after the whistle. He was only flagged.
The dirtiest hit of them all — perhaps in the NFL’s history — was Packers defensive lineman Charles Martin’s body slam of quarterback Jim McMahon well after a play in 1986 at Soldier Field. Martin wore a white towel with a hit list of Bears players’ numbers. McMahon’s No. 9 was at the top.
In a radio interview 10 years ago, Ditka said he believed Gregg promoted such behavior and still had no respect for him.
Blackhawks: Fight nights with 1980s North Stars
Before Avs-Wings, there was Hawks-Stars. Hawks fans of recent vintage might argue for Hawks-Canucks, but as good as that was, it never had a bench-clearing brawl or a battle royale during warmups. Former Hawks voice Pat Foley experienced both rivalries and said the choice was easy.
“North Stars,” he said. “It was longer, same division. I suggest it was one of the best rivalries in sports at the time. Those were games that you looked forward to because you knew there was extra juice there. The players felt it, and the fans were all over it.”
The teams met in the playoffs from 1982 to ’85. In the 1983 regular season, they squared off in a brawl at the Met Center that lasted nearly an hour and resulted in 175 penalty minutes. The playoff series in 1985 gave us Foley’s famous call of Murray Bannerman’s huge save — “Baaaaannerman!” Then a second generation of goons went from warming up to beating up before a game in 1989 at Chicago Stadium.
Bulls: Michael Jordan vs. Reggie Miller
A couple of Bulls rivalries already are spoken for. “The Last Dance” included de facto documentaries on the rivalries with the Pistons and Knicks. “Bad Boys,” ESPN’s “30 for 30” on the Pistons, did the same. But Jordan’s only mano-a-mano fight was against the Pacers’ Miller.
The two tangled in February 1993 at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. After Miller put in a putback, he bumped into Jordan beneath the basket. They came together as they headed up the court, with Jordan seemingly trying to remove Miller’s face and throwing a punch.
The officials ejected Miller and did nothing to Jordan. Years later, Jordan admitted he hated playing against Miller.
“I don’t really dislike anybody in the league, but playing Reggie Miller drives me nuts,” he said in 1998. “His game is all this flopping-type thing. He weighs only 185 pounds, so you have to be careful. Don’t touch him, or it’s a foul. On offense, I use all my 215 pounds and just move him out. But he has his hands on you all the time. I just want to beat his hands off because it’s illegal. It irritates me.”
Cubs: September 2003 series vs. Cardinals
Not many regular-season series in baseball stand the test of time, but this one does.
Dusty Baker’s Cubs entered the five-game series in third place, 2 ½ games behind the first-place Cardinals, led by Tony La Russa. They won four games, ending the series in second place, a half-game behind the Astros, and essentially knocking out the rival Cards. The Cubs went on to win the division.
Each day was filled with drama. Games 2 and 3 were a day-night doubleheader. The first game went 15 innings, ending on a home run by Sammy Sosa, and caused chaos for Wrigley Field staff ushering out the first crowd to make room for the second. The nightcap, which the Cubs lost, featured reliever Antonio Alfonseca storming from the old bullpen and bumping the third-base umpire while arguing a foul ruling.
In Game 4, the Cubs rallied from a 6-0 deficit in the sixth to win 8-7, but that wasn’t even the best theater. After the teams exchanged plunkings, Baker and La Russa got into a shouting match from the dugouts that was a lip-reader’s dream. The Cubs finished the job with more rallies in Game 5 to win 7-6.
White Sox: April 2000 brawls with Tigers
The recent brawl between the Angels and Mariners resulted in 12 players and coaches being suspended a combined 47 games.
That’s child’s play.
The Sox-Tigers brawls — in the seventh and ninth innings on April 22 — at new Comiskey Park resulted in 16 suspensions for 82 games. At the time, it was believed to be the most suspensions and harshest punishments for an on-field incident in baseball history.
After Tigers pitcher Jeff Weaver plunked Carlos Lee, Sox starter Jim Parque drilled Dean Palmer, who charged the mound. Weaver joined the fray out of uniform after being removed from the game. In the ninth, Sox reliever Bobby Howry hit Shane Halter, and Tigers reliever Doug Brocail charged from the dugout. Palmer joined that fight after being ejected following the first fight.
Tigers manager Phil Garner had been a Sox antagonizer as the Brewers’ skipper in the 1990s. Those teams had their share of dustups as well. The 2000 Sox took over first place in the division three days before brawling with the Tigers and never gave it up.